Have you seen it all in Coyote Trapping ?…maybe not?
I have known of Randy Smith of Kittanning, Pennsylvania for fifteen years or so. I saw him at district trapping events and fur sales, where we would have a few words about our trapping seasons. Randy’s words were of high number catches of fox, coyote, cats, and coon. More recently, I had the good fortune of working with Randy on some nuisance control jobs, as we each have our own wildlife pest control business. While traveling between jobs, Randy would again talk of huge fox catches in Maryland and generous coyote and cat numbers in the south. I just thought, “Anybody can make catches like that down there.” Then Randy would always jokingly say, “Fox just jump in the truck in Maryland.” Upon arrival back at Randy’s house, before he got out of the truck he said “ I charge a pretty good fee for a days trapping instruction, but if you would like, I will give you a few pointers sometime for free.” In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “ Just what is he going to show me?
In the fall of 2006, Randy and his partner Danny Barr decided to venture to the Midwest to establish and run a coyote line. When I called Randy after the trip, he told me the catch total was 94 coyotes in 16 days including a quadruple of 4 coyote in 4 traps and many doubles. I was amazed but still thought, “That is just because there are so many coyotes, everyone’s trapping skills are about the same.” Before hanging up I mentioned to Randy that if he was ever short on partners I would like to see such a thing first hand. He told me he and Danny were going out again in late January but maybe some other time.
Then came the call. It was Randy. He said, “Hey Dave, I’m still out here trapping coyote and Danny has got to leave. I have a lot of steel in the ground that is producing and I’m going to run it for 5 or 6 more days. If you want to come out and ride along you are welcome. By the way, we caught 13 coyote today and 11 yesterday.” Upon hearing that, I quickly accepted and in a day and a half I departed PA to meet up with Randy. On the long drive west, I was thinking, “This is actually happening, these guys are catching coyote like crazy, and they are probably skinning half the night.”
Upon arrival that evening, Randy gave me the verbal run down on his methods. “Don’t worry too much about human scent. It is a must to use modified No3’s, or the largest legal trap with 3 to 4 lbs pan tension. Use Steel screen pan covers. Dig a big very deep dirt-hole and widen it out at the bottom to make it look like it goes somewhere. Put the set where a coyote can SEE it. Cover the trap with ¾” dirt minimum. Pay the money for a good lure and big fork full of bait.” Then he told me to buy O’Gorman’s book , “Hoof Beats of a Wolfer” as it is nearly as good for trapping as the Bible is for living.
I then proudly pulled out my coyote trap, a super modified 1 ¾ Victor. Randy was unimpressed and said, “Throw it away. That trap may hold, but you will miss a lot of coyote with the small target area and may get toe catches if you cover like you should with dirt. You only get one chance, make it count. You can not come close to the target area of a No3 with steel screen. You see, the screen is rigid enough to make the entire area inside the jaws of the trap live, like the pan, and the trap comes up high enough to get a great hold.” I was hurt by his rejection of my favorite coyote trap and still had somewhat of a feeling that with high populations coyotes just jump in the truck.
The next morning we woke to a temperature of 5F and 35 mph winds. We set out in my truck and checked about 7 empty 2-trap locations. On the eighth location, we drove up to a jumping and spinning coyote. The trap on the coyote’s foot was a frozen ball of mud due to wet conditions that had turned frigid. This is the point where I usually panic and get the coyote shot quickly from a distance due to the fear of escape. However, Randy calmly had me face the truck into the wind to use as cover, filmed the ‘yote and let me take pictures. Randy dispatched the coyote and proceeded to remake the set. He re-dug the hole, using a steel screen pan cover and lots of dry salted dirt. This was just how he had described the set the night before. The coyote was then skinned warm on the tailgate using a choker collar to hold the feet to the corner tie down of the truck bed. The skinning took Randy a mere 4 minutes and 40 seconds according to the clock in the camcorder I was using to film. The next coyote met a similar fate and after the remake lost its hide in 3 minutes and 30 seconds as it was too cold to linger long outside.
After six more coyote, making a total of eight for the day, the hides were just bagged and frozen by mother nature in the bed of the truck. There was no long evening of skinning ahead of us, as I was accustomed to. How nice it is to skin as you go. With a partner, one guy skins while the other remakes the set. There is literally no loss of time, except on doubles.
During 4 checks traveling with Randy, I had witnessed 34 coyote catches and only one of them was held by the toes. I also saw that Randy’s No3’s with steel screen were not dug-up or tampered with at all as compared with adjacent traps covered with aluminum screen that had been exposed by coyotes about 10 times in the same period of time. In my trap line, I had come to believe that exposed traps happen to everyone on a regular basis, not so with these methods.
January’s 12-day trip had produced 86 coyotes using the same trap locations as were set in the November venture that yielded 94. The total was 180 coyotes in 28 days in new territory while establishing permission as you go.
I knew then just what Randy Smith could show me. Phenomenal visit to catch ratio. Tremendous foot-holds on the pad or above. No exposed traps. Unbelievable skinning technique that had even me skinning coyotes under 7 minutes. I learned more in the first day than I thought a trapper of 30 years could be taught. Randy is one of the few trappers that catch enough fur to make a true profit, even at today’s low prices.
Let me summarize the techniques. Use the largest legal trap with 3 to 4 lbs pan tension and a steel screen pan cover locked in place with the dog and held down by the jaws. Installing the screen can be nerve-racking and down right scary at first, but once you get it, it’s a “snap”, or should I say it’s easy. Of course, the trap should be bedded solidly and the big deep dirt hole placed where coyote can see it. During 50 mph winds, sight is primary and smell is a secondary issue. Make sure to buy good lure; it is worth the extra money. Cover with lots of dirt. Then add huge amounts of preparation, drive, and determination.
These techniques are not new, but it is surprising how many trappers have passed them over by not keeping an open mind. I was almost one of them. I will try not to let that happen again. Thanks Randy for an unforgettable and priceless experience.